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Afghans fight flow of drugs and guns fueling Taliban insurgency

But only 200 officers in the south have been trained so far in a US-led program to stem trafficking in and out of Pakistan.

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"If you tell them something 101 times," says General Hakim of his men, "maybe the 101st time, they will learn it."

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Belated focus on southern border

US and Afghan security officials say that in Afghanistan's eastern provinces, border police training has been going on for much longer.

"We've only been focusing on the border police in the south for nine months," says Hix. Until now, the focus in Afghanistan's violent south has been on building the region's district police forces, and "there just weren't enough resources to train the border police," he explains.

It took longer to begin training programs for border patrol officers in the south, because the fight here is viewed by US military commanders as less of a commuter's war. Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban movement, and, unlike the northern and eastern regions of Afghanistan, homegrown insurgents are plentiful.

"In the east, they have a much bigger Pakistan problem than we do," says Hix, referring to Pakistan's tribal areas across the border. where militants enjoy safe haven and can enter Afghanistan freely. "Down here, a lot of the enemy is local. In the south, the enemy is enabled by forces in Pakistan, not dependent on Pakistan."

As for corruption, he says that "there will always be smuggling. Always has been, always will be, as there is in every country in the world. But coalition monitors tell me that pilferage here is less than the percentage of pilferage that has been documented at some Western ports of entry."

Hundreds of miles to stop up

Afghan security officials understand all too well the problems facing the ABP.

"I believe in the border police's efforts, and I believe they're capable," says Brig. Gen. Shermohammed Zazi, who commands the Afghan National Army's 205 Corps in Kandahar. "But they don't have enough personnel to cover a 1,000-plus kilometer border, and they don't have proper equipment."

And of course, the border has two sides. Some ABP officials complain that their Pakistani counterparts, though better funded, are less effective than the Afghans are.

Still, resources for the border police on the Afghan side are what most concern coalition forces here.

In southern Afghanistan, district-level police number between 6,000 and 7,000, about twice the size of the border patrol. Money for the ABP comes out of the larger police budget, making it difficult to gauge the exact cost of the program. Hix has promised to provide Hakim with up-armored Humvees and other equipment once it becomes available.

The six-week training currently offered by the coalition is less about police work and more about how to survive contact with insurgents. Unlike district police, the border guards operate in small units on far-flung outposts, with little backup.

It's a dangerous job, and the training includes an emergency medical care component to help stem casualties.

While Afghan and US security officials are optimistic about the program, the ABP has a long way to go.

"Here," says Hix, "hope is in degrees."

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